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New school year? New opportunity to build faith!

Ed Drew from Faith in Kids shares some wise advice.

Uncomfortable shiny shoes. A new pencil case full of stationery 'treats'. A staged photo on the doorstep, complete with fixed grin and new uniform. This is the evidence of a new school year. For many families, there is far more happening beneath the social media surface.

Transitions matter

A great deal of research has gone into understanding the factors that lead to the children of Christian parents either keeping or losing faith. Transitions are shown to be crucial. Whether it’s the first day of full-time school or the start of university, it is at the points of change where faith is often built (or discarded). When our children find themselves in a new classroom, a new school or a new city, the more significant aspect is what is happening in their heads and hearts. Transitions reveal our coping mechanisms and test our faith.

When our children face change, they need to learn new skills and new routines and they need to trust that while they are struggling, there is one over them who has their days planned out with their good in mind. Our role as parents is to teach our children how to turn towards Christ, rather than away from him, whenever they feel alone, confused or nervous.

New school years give us a predictable moment of transition for which we can prepare, building a foundation that helps our children face the unpredictable changes that will come later.

Preparing ourselves

One friend ran a Bible study for mums about to drop their child off at school for the first time. Word got out. She had to run it again ... and again. The mums were clear that they were not ready; they were struggling to get used to the idea of their child being in full-time school. There was going to be a moment at the first drop-off when they would discover who would dissolve into tears first. These mums knew that before they could help their child, they had to go to work on their own hearts.

Preparing our children

For myself, I will be opening Acts 18:1–11 with my family in the run-up to the new school year. It’s the story of Paul arriving in a new city. He arrived bold and brave ready to witness to Christ, but there were difficulties and setbacks. Christians have never been promised an easy ride. We can’t prevent our children facing difficulties and setbacks; we can help them to be ready. God spoke directly to Paul offering truth, direction and reassurance.

Alongside the specific message for Paul was the timeless truth, 'For I am with you'. If your child is young, count those five words off on the fingers and thumb of their hand and then tell them to make a fist (for courage). Wherever they are, whatever is happening, however they are feeling, those five words will always be true. Ask them to practise saying them, counting them off on their fingers. They can say them to themselves. With such simple words, faith is built for life.

If your child feels calm and prepared, there is no harm in opening the Bible together, talking about new beginnings and finishing by praying. If your child is anxious, doing so is even more valuable.  However old your child, their emotions show what is happening in their hearts. Their worries, their fears and their beliefs are laid bare, even if they can’t explain them or even understand them. Take those things, together, to the God who loves them, and hear his words of reassuring truth.

Advice from a Christian counsellor

Eliza Huie is an experienced Christian counsellor, the dean of biblical counseling at Metro Baltimore Seminary and the author of many books, including Raising Teens in a Hyper-Sexualized World, Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World, Raising Emotionally Healthy Kids and Count Yourself Calm. She joined us on the Faith in Parents Podcast #121 to talk about 'parenting big emotions'.

As well as helping children to take comfort in the presence of God in all situations, she recommends a number of other practical strategies. Eliza Huie encourages parents to help their children notice how their bodies are affected by big emotions, asking where in their body they are feeling worried or upset. If children are feeling anxious about something, we can teach them to take big, slow breaths. This helps their body to move from a state of 'flight, fright or freeze' into a more relaxed state, which makes it easier for them to be able to think and talk about how they are feeling.

Eliza Huie encourages parents to start with a mindset of listening carefully to our children, rather than going straight into 'parent mode' where we want to instruct or correct them. We can ask open-ended questions about how they are feeling or simply say 'Tell me more'. It's important to help our children to recognise and name their emotions before we evaluate their responses.

Eliza Huie has two big 'rules' for parents, when it comes to responding to our children's big emotions. Firstly, avoid jumping to solutions. Our children don't need us to 'fix' them or the situation; what they need most is to be listened to and have their feelings validated. Secondly, don't take it personally, even if the emotion is directed towards us. The greatest gift that a parent can give to an emotional child is to be a calm and understanding presence ourselves. This means leaving aside our own emotional response to be processed at another time.

When it comes to the start of a new school year, Eliza Huie has some great advice. She emphasises the importance of routines, which are vital for reducing children's anxiety and helping them to thrive. Parents can set up predictable routines for things like mealtimes, bedtime and screen time. Ideally, Christian families will also develop a routine of Bible reading and prayer at the end of each day.

Apart from routine, Eliza Huie suggests that we foster good communication with our children as the new school year begins. This includes listening closely to their concerns at the end of each day (without going straight into 'fix it' mode) and helping them to have all of the information they need about what's coming up next. We can sit down together with their schedule and talk through each day ahead of time. We can equip our children with some strategies for coping with challenges that arise, such as deep breathing and knowing when and where to get help.

A new school year can be an emotional time for both parents and children. So let's send our children off with the knowledge that our loving God goes with them and with some practical strategies for coping with big emotions.

Hear more from Eliza Huie on the Faith in Parents Podcast #121 about Parenting Big Emotions.

A version of this article originally appeared at Faith in Kids.

Ed Drew is the Director of Faith in Kids, which exists to see confident parents and thriving churches raising children together to trust Jesus eternally. He is the host of their two podcast streams for parents and families and the author of Raising Confident Kids in a Confusing World.


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